Stockhausen

HARMONIEN (HARMONIES) and Trios, 2006-2007
(KLANG, Hours 5-12)

 

HARMONIEN (Harmonies) forms the 5th hour of the KLANG (Sound) cycle. From this work for solo instruments – there are versions for bass clarinet, flute or trumpet – seven trio works are derived, which form hours 6 through 12 of KLANG:

Sixth Hour: SCHÖNHEIT (Beauty; for bass clarinet, flute, trumpet)
Seventh Hour: BALANCE (for bass clarinet, English horn, flute)
Eighth Hour: GLÜCK (Bliss; for bassoon, English horn, oboe)
Ninth Hour: HOFFNUNG (Hope; for cello, viola, violin)
Tenth Hour: GLANZ (Brilliance; for bassoon, viola and clarinet, with inserts featuring oboe, trumpet, trombone, tuba)
Eleventh Hour: TREUE (Fidelity; for bass clarinet, basset-horn, E-flat clarinet)
Twelfth Hour: ERWACHEN (Awakening; for cello, trumpet, soprano saxophone)

The composer:

"Harmonies come into being from successions of melody groups, each of which has a different tempo, rhythm and register. At the end of a group, its pitches are repeated as very fast periods without rhythm and in a different registral distribution, so that the melody has a harmonic effect, like a vibrating chord."

There are five melody groups; the composer explains them with note examples in his introductory notes, which also describe the origins of the work, in the booklet to the CD of Harmonien and Schönheit, p. 11-13 (Stockhausen-Verlag CD 87). The beginning of HARMONIEN (taken from the same CD booklet, p. 15) is reproduced below these introductory notes and shows the five melody groups played in succession:

CD booklet of Harmonien and Schönheit, pp. 11-13, 15, 19 (pdf)
(the perceived resolution is highest upon print-out)


General characteristics of the music

In the 7 trio works, which are based on the musical material of the solo work HARMONIEN, the five melody groups overlap, as do the repetitions of pitches as very fast periods that arise out of the melody groups; these can also be referred to as ‘loops’ or ‘ritornelli’ (see the Wikipedia page, mainly written by Stockhausen expert Jerome Kohl, which gives an informative overview of compositional details). This overlap is seen in the opening of the first trio, SCHÖNHEIT (Beauty; for bass clarinet, flute and trumpet), reproduced in the above linked pdf file (CD booklet p. 19). After a few extended chords it starts with the first three melody groups played simultaneously, distributed over the three instruments. Subsequently, flute and trumpet intonate the 4th and 5th melody group simultaneously (lower set of staves).

Due to the overlap of the melody groups, as well as the overlap of the associated ritornelli, which all have their own tempo, the different instruments often play simultaneously in different tempi. In many instances the material from the melody groups unfolds at a slow pace; as a result the fast moving ritornelli are often contrasted with very slow moving melodic lines that develop at the same time. Combinations of just these melodic lines or of just ritornelli are also heard. The elegance with which the diverse textures alternate or emerge from one another adds to the appeal of the composition.

Since the melody lines and the associated ritornelli develop simultaneously in the trios, rather than in the successive manner of the solo work HARMONIEN, the listening experience is quite different from that in HARMONIEN. The attention of the listener is less directed towards the harmonic envelope of each individual ritornello in relation to the melody group out of which it arises, and more towards the forms of motion developing simultaneously and in succession in these works.

The general harmonic envelope in the trios is ever fluctuating, and the harmonic textures that are created upon unfolding of the polyphony are attractive. In particular the combination of slow moving lines frequently results in harmony of great beauty.

The ritornelli, the sequences of repeats of pitch groups, show inner development or even directionality. Dynamics may decrease or swell during the sequence of repeats. Frequently the ritornello loops are interrupted, in varying intervals, by pauses, only to continue afterwards. Pauses are not only used to create tension, but also to shape the development processes of ritornelli, often in conjunction with dynamic changes.

For example, in a number of instances the dynamics are decreasing, in a diminuendo, during an uninterrupted string of repeats within a ritornello. After a pause the string of repeats restarts at a louder volume, which immediately leads into another diminuendo. This may repeat itself 3 or 4 times, with often varying lengths of each string of repeats. Alternatively, after a pause, diminuendi are followed by crescendi within the ritornello series until it comes to an end. Crescendi sometimes also dominate the development of a ritornello series entirely.

There are also instances where within a continuous string of ritornello repeats, uninterrupted by pauses, the dynamics cycle from softer to louder and back, or from louder to softer and back (see also the beginnings of HARMONIEN and SCHÖNHEIT reprinted in the CD booklet, linked to above). They may cycle in more complex patterns as well. Upon resuming after a pause, the dynamic development within the string of repeats may change.

Not just dynamics change within ritornelli, but also the tempo; often there are ritardandi or accelerandi through a sequence of repeats. These tend to appear in conjunction with crescendi or diminuendi. Variation through a sequence of figures also occurs by different manners of playing, e.g., switching from legato to staccato playing, or to playing with flutter tongue, and switching back from these. In a few cases there is playing with double or even triple tongue (triple-beats where string instruments play, as they do in some trios). The ritornelli, with their inner development and directionality, lend a distinct forward momentum to the music, a momentum that often turns urgent.

The pitch patterns within a given ritornello usually do not vary. There are some occasions where the register changes in a stepwise manner during repeats of the same figure, and in a few instances the ritornello ends in a ‘cadential’ figure that varies pitch. – There is one passage in each of the trios that features several dramatic, expanded downward cascading lines of fast figures that sound in succession (e.g., in the CD of BALANCE they are heard in track 2 from 5'52" to 6'27" in the flute); they play against ritornello repeats. While in their fast quasi-circling motions these cascading lines seem similar to ritornelli themselves, they consist mostly of not or not quite repetitive elements.

Not just does the inner life of the ritornelli change during their unfolding, but in the trio works they sound in ever new contexts of simultaneous playing of one of the other two instruments, or of both – the often complex polyphonic texture constantly varies. A given ritornello may be accompanied by drawn-out single tones in one or both of the other two instruments, often played with trills (trills are part of the original melody groups). These may shift to other tones during the duration of the ritornello, or to other, faster melodic phrases. A ritornello may closely intertwine with another ritornello, mostly with a different number of notes per figure playing at a different pace (e.g., fewer notes per figure, with the ritornelli played at lower speed in order to fit in with the other one that it intertwines with). It may also be cut into during its development by another ritornello; often these parallel, competing ritornelli show different internal development, including different onsets of ritardandi. While there are constant tempo fluctuations in the music, and in technical terms the ritornelli are played in fast tempo, generally the overall tempo makes a rather moderate impression. Yet sometimes ritornelli suddenly emerge and race through the music at a much higher speed than the average.

There are drawn-out dynamic curves of swelling and/or deflating, not just in the ritornelli but also in the slow moving melodic lines or in single extended notes thereof. Sometimes the dynamic curves of ritornelli and slow lines converge, either completely or partially, and sometimes they diverge. When two instruments play intertwining ritornelli, their dynamics usually develop in tandem. The intricate web of dynamic ebb and flow, a prominent feature of the composition just as the constant tempo fluctuations, is arresting and greatly contributes to the vividness of the music. Dynamic surges, which include swelling through trills on single notes, can be dramatic and add to the forward momentum in the music.

The duration of the ritornelli varies. Often they are extended, especially when divided by pauses. In some cases a ritornello may stretch over a quite long period of time while around it there are busy changes in the music; in these instances the ritornello acts as a constant among other music that is in flux, while it undergoes its own development, dynamically or otherwise, as well. On the other hand, there are cases where ritornelli are cut short.

Upon first encounter with the music the listener may ask him/herself, why all these repeats? After all, pitches of the ritornelli usually do not vary, and nor do their rhythms (they are conceived as fast periods without rhythm, see the composer above). Yet paradoxically, once you discover the development within the ritornelli by dynamics, tempo, structuring by pauses etc., often resulting in directionality, as well as the ever changing context within which the ritornelli occur, the perception changes. Then not only each ritornello becomes captivating, but sometimes a given sequence may even appear too short, being abruptly ended to give way to another ritornello, or to different textures. For me personally, puzzlement about the compositional strategy in these works has given way to endless fascination with this new kind of composition, which results in music that breathes in a unique manner. Consequently, some trios out of this series are now among my most favorite music.

Perhaps a main reason for the ability of this music to captivate the listener’s mind in a particular way is that, while other music features longer processes, such as thematic development, in these works the development within each ritornello is its own compact and straightforward process. The music then features a large series of such processes, either in a sequential or in an overlapping mode. The development of the slower lines that play simultaneously with the ritornelli may become part of the processes as well.

Having said that, there are also longer processes that span an entire work or a good portion thereof. For example, in SCHÖNHEIT there is a move towards more complexity through phases I – V (see the Wikipedia page and reference therein). In the next hour, BALANCE, where the order of these five main phases is reversed, the process is from the greatest level of complexity towards relatively more simplicity.

***

HARMONIEN presents the melody groups and ritornelli in their purest form, just by themselves, outside of a polyphonic context. This affords the listener the opportunity to more easily concentrate on the internal development of each of the ritornelli individually, and can create a strong fascination of its own. The overall form is more compact than that of the trios; the duration of the work is only about half that of the trios (about 15 min vs. about 30 min). The most extended ritornello sequences, divided by several, sometimes longer, pauses and of a duration of 30 seconds or more, are heard more towards the middle. In the version for trumpet (CD 87, track 3) they sound from 6’11" to 6’41", from 8’03" to 8’33", and from 9’22" to 9’54". The longest one, of a duration of just under one minute, sounds from 10’08" to 10’57". Such vastly extended ritornello sequences, riveting to listen to, are also incorporated in the trios.

The different versions of HARMONIEN – for bass clarinet, flute, trumpet – highlight different possibilities of playing on each of the instruments. In the version for bass clarinet the deeply expressive and resonant vibrato of the instrument is frequently heard. In the version for flute the fifth melody group in moderate tempo (CD 87, track 2, from 2’31" onward) and the subsequent fast ritornello are played with a ‘breathy’ sound in between straight tone and ‘rushing noise’, produced by blowing over the mouth hole of the instrument; in the trios with flute such playing is in a few instances found as well, but in a less prominent manner. The version for trumpet employs different mutes that each add their own color; the mutes are also used in the trios where the trumpet plays.

***

There is a significant number of compositions by Stockhausen that had featured ‘loops’ before he wrote HARMONIEN and the trios derived from it. A few examples would be HARLEKIN, KATHINKAs GESANG and Vier Sterne weisen Dir den Weg (Four stars show you the way) from AMOUR. Yet in the newer compositions the development of the 'loops' or ritornelli is shaped by pauses and dynamics in a novel manner. In addition, the trios present a unique polyphonic context in which ritornelli occur and interact with one another. In fact, when I think about originality in Stockhausen's music, the musical tapestry of the trios comes to mind as one of the foremost examples of this characteristic, even though Stockhausen has broken new territory with so many of his works, and always has remained at the forefront of musical avantgarde, i.e. of ever new invention.


Various sounds and perspectives

From the text by Imke Misch in the booklet to Stockhausen-Verlag CD 88 (BALANCE and GLÜCK), p. 15:

In regard to the close compositional relationship between the Hours 5 to 12 of the KLANG cycle, Stockhausen commented in a letter to Willem Hering of April 18th 2007: "When someday all 7 trio versions are finished, the characteristics of each hour will be discovered…I find the relationship between the hours more important than their differences."

Four of the trios are for winds only:

SCHÖNHEIT (Beauty; for bass clarinet, flute, trumpet)
BALANCE (for bass clarinet, English horn, flute)
TREUE (Fidelity; for bass clarinet, basset-horn, E-flat clarinet)
GLÜCK (Bliss; for bassoon, English horn, oboe – all double reeds)

HOFFNUNG (Hope), is a string trio for cello, viola and violin, and ERWACHEN (Awakening) as well as GLANZ (Brilliance) are played by a mixture of winds and strings.

Both the trios SCHÖNHEIT and ERWACHEN feature the trumpet as one of the three instruments (bass clarinet, flute are the other two instruments in the former, in the latter they are cello and soprano saxophone). Unlike in other trios, where the three instruments are more or less evenly prominent, in these 2 trios the trumpet takes center stage as the loudest of the three instruments. As a result, at times the musical strand played by the trumpet appears to be the main strand around which everything else revolves. This holds for the playing of simultaneous ritornelli in trumpet and another instrument, where the trumpet dominates (for instance, track 10 of Stockhausen-Verlag CD 90 with ERWACHEN, at 2’50", with intertwining ritornelli of cello and trumpet), yet it also applies to other cases. For example, in track 12 of ERWACHEN (at 0’59") there is a majestic ascending figure in the trumpet playing against a ritornello in cello and other ascending lines in soprano saxophone. This figure dominates over the ritornello which it plays against and over the soprano sax as well; in the corresponding passage in, for example, TREUE (Fidelity) for bass clarinet, basset-horn and E-flat clarinet (same CD, track 1, at 1’07") there is more of a struggle of the broad ascending line in basset-horn to break through against the figures played by the other two instruments. Especially the vehement ritornello in bass clarinet has a towering presence.

Yet while the trumpet clearly dominates at louder volumes, it may also have the greater presence at lower volumes, due to its incisive tone especially when played with mute. An example where this plays a role in the balance of instruments would be the greater prominence of ‘side’ figures, such as in track 10 at 4’44" of ERWACHEN; the comparable passage in TREUE on the same CD would be track 2 at 5’08". Another example for prominence of the trumpet at lower volume would be the drawn-out notes as an augmentation of a preceding ritornello in higher register, playing against a ritornello in soprano sax, in track 9 of ERWACHEN at 3’33"; the equivalent passage in TREUE, where these drawn-out notes draw less attention to themselves, is in track 4 at 3’26" on that CD.

The presence of the trumpet provides a different perspective also in other ways. As already mentioned, the same CD (Stockhausen-Verlag CD 90) features both TREUE for bass clarinet, basset-horn and E-flat clarinet, and ERWACHEN, for cello, soprano saxophone and trumpet. At the same volume setting, the (measured) peak levels of both recordings are approximately the same. Yet since the trumpet plays considerably louder at peaks than the other instruments, proportionately cello and soprano saxophone in ERWACHEN play at significantly lower volume level than the woodwinds in TREUE. In comparison to the latter recording at the same volume, ERWACHEN thus sounds as if either the performers are seated further towards the middle or back of the stage, or that the listener sits further away from the stage. From this perspective, the apparent forward momentum of the music also lies more with the louder trumpet than with the other two instruments; if the recording is turned up to a volume where these instruments sound as loud as a rather close-up rendition of the woodwinds in TREUE, the forward drive established by them becomes comparable, yet now the trumpet sounds really loud.

In the string trio HOFFNUNG (Hope), for cello, viola and violin, the ritornelli not just change in timbre compared to when played by winds, but also in character. During legato runs through the ritornelli the notes often ‘glide’ into each other in a way unique to strings, giving the music its own kind of fluidity; at other times the ritornelli have a similar character as when played by winds. On the other hand, staccato playing of ritornelli by the strings tends to be of a particular incisiveness. In the trios that feature both wind and string instruments, ERWACHEN (with cello) and GLANZ (Brilliance; with viola), the single string instruments lend some of the character experienced in HOFFNUNG to the music.

In HARMONIEN for trumpet (Stockhausen-Verlag CD 87, track 3) there is an interesting sound effect, almost appearing like a Doppler effect, in a passage from 11’18" to 11’43". It is the result of the player slowly rotating, so that the opening of the trumpet points in different directions away from the listener. At first he rotates in one right turn during 4 ritornello repeats, and then, after a pause, he rotates in one left turn during another 8 ritornello repeats followed by a long ending note. In other works of the series, players are also asked to rotate around their own axis at certain moments. In some trios the players also rotate positions on the stage (left, middle, right) during the diverse sections; a work where this happens quite frequently is SCHÖNHEIT, among others. On the other hand, in some trios the player’s relative locations on the stage are fixed, such as in BALANCE (like SCHÖNHEIT a work for three winds).


Inserts

The trios feature 5 main sections, which are presented in different sequential order in the diverse trios. In the trios that follow SCHÖNHEIT, where just the 5 main sections are played, inserts are added to the structure on top of these sections.

ERWACHEN begins with a three-voice harmony over slow moving lines that is of an exquisite beauty, shifting between seductive and austere colors. This remarkable passage was first composed as the coda of GLANZ (Brilliance), a work that, as the only one in the trio cycle, also features inserts from other instruments beyond the basic trio of clarinet, bassoon, and viola. Inserts from solo oboe, a trumpet-trombone duo, and solo tuba are heard. In an extended insert in this work (CD 89, track 9, from 4’15" onward), the diverse instruments one by one engage in tossing of single notes that each are responded to with tossing of another note by a different instrument; this goes its rounds in a delicious game of ‘keeping the ball in the air’.

BALANCE ends with an extended passage where all three instruments simultaneously play ritornelli (the music fades with only key-noises remaining as the players leave the stage). This is an unusual occurrence; rare moments where triple ritornelli are otherwise heard in any of the trios are brief and fleeting. In general, either just one ritornello sounds at a given time, or two different ritornelli are played by two of the instruments in an overlapping or intertwining manner.

BALANCE also features solo inserts by the English horn at the end of its first and second main sections (CD tracks 1 and 2), as well as a cadenza at the end of the third main section (CD track 3, 5’02") that features the English horn prominently. Inserted solo passages are also found in other trios, and diverse other kinds of instrumental passages unique to a given trio are featured in several trios as well.

In each of the trios, there are passages with spoken words, with the words in many cases separated by drawn-out chords or notes. In some instances the words express the meaning of the work’s title. For example, in TREUE there is a passage where the words are spoken "Treue zu Gott" ("Fidelity to God"), and in ERWACHEN the words are "Erwachen in Gott" ("Awakening in God"). In other cases the words express other spiritual content, like in the passage towards the end of BALANCE where the performers speak in unison from the liturgical text "Gloria in excelsis Deo / et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis" ("Glory to God in the highest / and on earth peace, goodwill to all people"). Words are also spoken at the beginning of HARMONIEN for trumpet – "Lob sei Gott" ("Praise be to God") – while in the other two versions of this work (for bass clarinet, flute) the soloist just plays the instrument.

In HOFFNUNG, GLÜCK and GLANZ there are two passages of spoken words, one in the main body of the work and one towards either the beginning (GLANZ) or the end (the other two). The passage towards the end of HOFFNUNG features some solo playing by the violin between the words or phrases.

I would recommend reading also the excellent Wikipedia page on the structural aspects of HARMONIEN and the trios, which includes the inserts.


Performances and recording

The performances on the Stockhausen CDs are of high quality throughout, and for a large part given by the players who premiered the works. That includes players from Stockhausen’s inner circle, from the ensemble musikFabrik, ensemble recherche, and others. This diversity also offers the opportunity to enjoy and compare different players on the same instruments, such as flute (featured in SCHÖNHEIT and BALANCE), bass clarinet (played in TREUE and the two just mentioned works) and English horn (in BALANCE and GLÜCK). There are quite pronounced differences in the character and tone of playing by the diverse performers.

The CD recordings are all excellent and of great clarity, and beautifully reproduce the expressive dynamics of the playing. Particularly remarkable is the timbral detail and realism of the strings in HOFFNUNG, of a level rarely found in recordings featuring solo string instruments.

As specified in the scores, in the trios the players are located on the stage left, middle and right, with the middle player standing or sitting further back. The spatial depth resulting from the position of the middle player is well captured in the recordings, audible on stereo systems able to reproduce it.


© Albrecht Moritz 2015, text revised 2016


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